A law that criminalises ‘insults’ needs reforming for the sake of free speech, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said.
His support for reforming Section 5 of the Public Order Act comes ahead of tomorrow’s expected debate about the matter in the House of Lords.
Section 5 outlaws “insulting” words or behaviour that may cause alarm or distress to a person.
It has led to a string of controversial arrests of peaceful and legitimate protestors.
Atheists, secularists and Christians have joined together in calling for the law to be reformed.
A spokesman for Nick Clegg said: “It is something that has support on all sides of the house. It would be a sensible move to repeal it.”
Tomorrow’s debate in the House of Lords will consider an amendment tabled by Lord Mawhinney, but a vote is not expected.
Lord Dear, a former HM inspector of constabulary, said: “Removing the word ‘insulting’ certainly does not leave police officers exposed.”
He added that there are “several other” options for police to use when charging people who were abusive or offensive.
If the word “insulting” is removed from Section 5, the same law would continue to criminalise “threatening” and “abusive” words or behaviour.
A spokesman from The Christian Institute said: “Christians have put their shoulder to the wheel alongside civil liberties groups, atheists, gay activists and others, to push for insults to be taken out of the scope of section 5 because they believe in freedom of speech.
“Section 5 is dangerously broad and, especially in today’s politically correct climate, is in desperate need of reform.”
And Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, commented: “Section 5 is the worst of both worlds. It potentially criminalises the comic or harmlessly absurd, but far worse creates a chilling effect over those speaking truth to power.
“We restrict freedom of expression at our peril; it is the bedrock of democracy.”